THEY say variety is the spice of life and if that's true then things are certainly hotting up at Kia where a larger-than-life Sportswagon model has been added to the Optima range.
The Sportswagon is Kia's first venture into the family saloon market and is priced from Â£22,295, and with excellent fuel economy potential, it's likely to make managers in the fleet market sit up and take note.
The car is powered by a highly-efficient and punchy 1.7-litre turbodiesel engine delivering 139bhp along with 340Nm of torque and buyers can select from three well-equipped trim levels called ‘2', ‘3' and GT Line S. A sporty high performance GT version will be added in 2017.
The transmission is via a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed DCT dual-clutch automatic variant that is available as an option on grade ‘3' or standard on the GT Line S.
Unlike some estate cars that offer flexibility at a cost in the styling department the Optima Sportswagon makes no such compromises.
There is nothing boxy about its appearance and despite having almost identical dimensions to the saloon, there are numerous additions that help reinforce its estate status.
These include roof rails, a DC power outlet in the luggage area, a handle for one-touch folding of the rear seats, a luggage side partition and towing connection preparation. Level ‘3' adds a luggage rail system, boot lip trim and privacy glass. Then a powered tailgate is introduced to the range-topping GT Line S.
The front half of the Sportswagon is a replica of the saloon, but from the door-pillars back it's all change.
There is a rising shoulder line with raked rear window and tapering roof which helps to portray a sporty yet elegant appearance. Other eye-catching design cues, depending on the trim level, include 17 or 18-inch alloys, sleek headlight clusters with LED daytime running lights and a sliding panoramic roof.
All models come with a generous level of kit included as standard with the likes of a colour touchscreen, air conditioning, a pitch perfect sound system, DAB digital radio, heated or ventilated seats which can be electrically-adjusted, a reversing camera, cruise control and plenty more besides.
The interior is beautifully refined with lots of quality materials incorporated. It features a design format that is instantly recognisable as a Kia these days with the fascia divided into upper and lower sections.
As a result, the number of buttons and switches is kept to a minimum to create a clutter-free cabin environment with many functions accessed via the easy-to-operate touchscreen.
In addition, the Optima Sportswagon is available with a full suite of advanced connectivity and active driver assistance features, including Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, plus Kia Connected Services powered by TomTom which provides live traffic updates, speed camera alerts and local points-of interest along with weather reports. This service is provided free of charge for seven years.
The interior of the Sportswagon is exceptionally spacious and the generously-sized boot can accommodate 552 litres of cargo which is increased to 1,686 litres with the rear seats dropped flat.
These seats have a 40:20:40 configuration which means two passengers can travel in the back whilst still transporting longer items. And those rear occupants would feel anything but cramped as the car offers ample leg, head and shoulder space for passengers of the taller variety to travel in extreme comfort.
We tried out two versions of the Optima Sportswagon. First up was the grade ‘3' with six-speed manual gearbox priced at Â£24,495.
This car can sprint to 60mph from a standing start in 9.8 seconds, tops out at 124mph, has combined fuel economy of 64.2mpg and carbon emissions of 113g/km.
This model will really appeal to the fleet market and is very competitively priced with frugal running costs.
The car proved an absolute delight to drive on a variety of roads. In town iit was agile and very easy to manoeuvre. On winding lanes the road-holding was assured and the steering beautifully precise meaning it could be thrown into corners with confidence.
On fast-moving motorways it moved effortlessly through the gears and almost glided along swallowing up the Tarmac with barely any engine or road surface noise infiltrating the cabin.
Next up was the GT Line S model with 7-speed dual clutch transmission costing £30,595. It can reach from 0-60mph in 10.7 seconds, maxes out at 124mph, achieves 61.4mpg on a combined run with CO2 emissions of 120g/km.
This is the model with all the sporty good looks, although the performance stats are pretty similar to the ‘3' version.
It certainly has the attention-grabbing appearance though with more aggressive styling. Once again the car handled beautifully, but this time the automatic transmission took care of the gear switches.
That said; there are paddle shifters to take a little more control, along with a Drive Mode Select feature that offers Normal, Eco or Sport settings which alter the throttle, gear shift timing and steering wheel weight accordingly.
To be honest, both models were up to any challenge and they both delivered great driving dynamics, excellent comfort levels, a host of techno treats and all the flexibility needed in an estate car.
And when you factor in the comprehensive list of safety specifications, the all-round package is very attractive indeed.
The Optima Sportswagon may be Kia's first venture into big estate territory, but it is an excellent piece of kit that truly offers the best of both worlds.
It is sleek and dynamic in appearance yet successfully delivers all the versatility and practicality required along the way.